Bipartisan effort in Senate to aid Dreamers after Obama punts
After the White House ruled out a pardon for illegal immigrant Dreamers, a bipartisan group of senators vowed Thursday to write a bill next year granting them full legal status — though they will need to persuade a President Trump to back their effort.
Two veterans of the last major immigration fight, Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said trying to deport some 740,000 illegal immigrant Dreamers would be inhumane.
They said they will try to have a bill written next week and ready to go in the new year, and perhaps pass it before the next Congress is sworn in and before Mr. Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Their goal, they said, is to halt deportations in the short term, giving lawmakers breathing room to take another stab at a broad legalization bill.
“I’ve talked to a number of my colleagues on the floor, on both sides of the aisle about this, and there are strong emotions in favor of helping these young people,” said Mr. Durbin, who has been working on the issue for 15 years.
But to succeed, he will need to overcome opposition from rank-and-file Republicans, whose party controls both the House and Senate and who have repeatedly rejected legalization attempts.
The Dreamers — a name adopted by young adult illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and who have kept out of major criminal trouble — are considered the most sympathetic cases in the debate.
President Obama in 2012 announced a program designed to give them an amnesty from deportation, which also included work permits entitling the illegal immigrants to driver’s licenses and some taxpayer benefits.
Mr. Trump has vowed to revoke that program, which could throw the more than 740,000 approved Dreamers back into illegal status, making them eligible for deportation. Depending on how Mr. Trump structures his policy, he could cancel all of the amnesties immediately or refuse to renew them, meaning illegal immigrants would fall out of status over time.
Mr. Graham said Mr. Obama’s program was illegal, but he added that it was unfair to blame the illegal immigrants who were “tricked” into signing up, providing their identities and addresses to immigration officials in exchange for the amnesty. Under a Trump administration, that information would help deportation find the Dreamers.
“I cannot live with myself, quite frankly, as a United States senator that would take 740,000 people that voluntarily came forward and throw them to the wolves,” Mr. Graham said on Fox News.
Mr. Trump has not tipped his hand since the election on how he would approach the Dreamers, though those on both sides of the debate say they expect him to make good on his pledge to revoke the president’s executive action.
During the campaign, Mr. Trump appeared to be of a mixed mind about how he would treat those affected by his decision. He expressed sympathy but said the immigrants needed to get right with the law. Speaking at a forum in September, Mr. Trump said Dreamers who join the military were “a very special situation” and could be put on a path to citizenship.
Faced with a Trump presidency, illegal immigrant activists have vowed to resist any attempt to step up deportations, and some localities have insisted that they would remain sanctuary cities, refusing to cooperate even when asked to turn over criminal aliens to federal agents.
Activists had also demanded that Mr. Obama use his pardon power to grant clemency to Dreamers, erasing their unauthorized status. The activists said that wouldn’t grant them a pathway to citizenship but might buy them time while Congress worked out a broader solution.
A top White House aide shot down that idea this week, saying the pardon power is for criminal offenses while illegal immigration is a civil offense.
For now, Dreamers are stepping forward with their own stories of how Mr. Obama’s amnesty has changed their lives by giving them the chance to hold down legal jobs.
The Center for American Progress released a report in October finding that more than 90 percent of those approved for the amnesty received driver’s licenses or ID cards, 54 percent have bought their first cars and 12 percent bought homes.
Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said he sees strong emotions from both sides of the aisle in favor of helping Dreamers.